It was an inspiring meeting today at Freeman's Bay. Just to see the number and variety of people inclined and enthused enough to come out and take part makes it easier to think about doing this stuff well.
Some thoughts on what we are engaged in.
On the broader economic front we need to consider how we will cope with the transition from the existing normal economic model to the one we are proposing will happen and for which we are preparing. For example, I need good sources of ingredients for my food security.
If you look at my supermarket trolley, you will find that I have plenty of flour, nuts, grains, vinegar etc and a few luxuries like coffee and chocolate but almost no manufactured products in between because we make all our own breads, biscuits, cakes etc, including brioche thanks to the chooks.
Nevertheless, we are riding on an invisible subsidy created by the commercial confectionery industry which orders millions of tonnes of the same ingredients that I buy as well. Those orders create economies of scale for suppliers, millers, transport companies etc and that helps to ensure supply as well as keep prices under control.
As more of us shift to our own production the market might very well be a significant percentage of the current one, but it will be aggregated from many small producers rather than guaranteed by several large ones. Right there you change the risk profile of the flour business for example.
As well, there are non-linear outcomes from change. Lets say enough of us shift to home and community production of bread that the main commercial producers see a fall in their sales. The key question is how much of a fall does it take to drive a company out of business? Given just-in-time supply chain models and the slimmest possible margins supported by massive turnover, the critical shift may be as small as 5% and I would bet that a consistent fall of 20% in commercial bread consumption will see several manufacturers go out of business.
This may apply across the board. At which point the cost of my ingredients will rise, not in itself a serious issue since the quality of the food I'm eating will be preferable and under my own control, but if a company like DYC went broke, or Delmaine decided that importing white wine vinegar was no longer worth it, how would I replace those supplies? And what would happen to my ability to participate in the revolution if I also depended on one of them for my cash income?
As part of the thinking about this, try this excellent post from Kevin Carson at P2P Foundation, Abundance Creates Utility But Destroys Exchange Value. While he is looking at cultural products and intellectual property, I believe that increasing the number of food producers and distributing their productive capacity may well result in more secure and stable food sources, but it may also shrink the economy because the lost jobs will be replaced by unpaid and uncounted work and the food that is distributed may also be outside the existing transactional system.
The significance of that is that the economy's ability to form financial capital is constrained and that will have knock-on effects that we will have to deal with as well.
None of the above deals with the external realities that energy and water to produce the existing quantities of product are themselves under stress and unlikely to be able to continue anyway. For the hard words on that, try this post at Culture Change; Depletion of Key Resources: Facts at Your Fingertips.
The sections on grain production, water availability and arable land are striking. In the midst of this hard-nosed peice comes this sentence, "Those who expect to get by with “victory gardens” are unaware of the arithmetic involved." Take a deep breath and read the next section.
I'm not arguing for refraining from this path, I believe that its is not really optional, but I would like us to be thinking about how we manage the transitions as, first demand for some products shrinks, then companies go out of business and supplies shrink suddenly and very substantially, then others take up the slack and confront shrinking markets of their own.
The reality is that, although changing our food production and distribution system is a great thing, hugely enjoyable and satisfying, it is an actual revolution. This has other implications for organisations like Ooooby.
As long as we can simply say, "well, we choose to grow our own food and share it informally" there is little that the existing economic and political powers can do about that except to start propagandising us about the downsides of local food production, horror stories in the media about people who shared slug infested cabbages from a farmers' market etc etc,
But when we establish intermediaries and seek to intersect with the financial system, we will encounter the same kind of pressure from vested interests that the music and film industries are currently applying to ISP's, governments and individual to regulate their vanishing profits back into existence.
This IS a revolution, the more successful we are, the more resistance we will meet. Just for the hell of it, have a look at one of my blog posts on Transitions.